The Gender Security Project
CRSV: Cabo Delgado (Mozambique)
This case note is a part of our series of case notes that document the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. The case note contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.
Background of the Conflict
The insurgency in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, as the name suggests, is a contemporary, ongoing conflict in Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique. The conflict, which began in 2017, is mainly fought between militant Islamists who seek to establish an Islamist state in the region and Mozambican security forces. Civilians have been targeted by attacks led by the Islamist militants, the main group among which is Ansar al-Sunna, a native extremist outfit with international connections.
The locals known them as “al-Shabaab” (although they are distinct from the Somali al-Shabaab). The Ansar al-Sunna claims that the Islam practiced in Mozambique has been corrupted, and demand that people follow their radical beliefs (Agencia de Informacao de Mozambique 2018). The movement has been decidedly anti-Christian, anti-Western, and anti-Animist, and has considered particular schools and hospitals secular – a basis for its attacks (Opperman 2018). Reports also suggest that the ISIS has been active in the northern region of Mozambique (The Independent, 2018), and claimed its first attack in June 2019 (Weiss 2019). In April 2018, Al-Sunnah pledged allegiance to ISIS (Opperman 2018).
Over time, the insurgency became increasingly violent and demanded the imposition of Sharia Law, while announcing that it did not recognize the Mozambican government. It set up and operated camps in hiding across Mozambique, where Ansar al-Sunna militants gained training from former policemen and frontier guards who had been fired and continued to hold grudges against the government. Relying on support from other Islamist militants in East Africa, Ansar al-Sunna were also reported to have hired trainers from Kenya, Somalia, and Tanzania (Agencia de Informacao de Mozambique 2018). The militants, however, are all split into different cells that do not coordinate or operate in conjunction (Opperman 2018).
Although manifesting as having a religious basis, the conflict is also a result of the social, economic, and political problems in Mozambique. Rampant unemployment, widening disparities and raging inequalities, as well as corruption have continued to feed the conflict (Reuters 2018). Most of the rebels belong to the Mwani and Makwa communities – both of which are native to Cabo Delgado. Civilians from these communities have often expressed sympathy for the insurgents (Tulet, 2021). Further, the natural resources including natural gas and precious gemstones, have also been major factors in the conflict (Wadekar 2021). In the conflict since 2017, over 2500 people have been killed, and over 800,000 have been displaced (Human Rights Watch 2021).
Systematic use of CRSV
The systematic use of conflict-related sexual violence continues against the backdrop of the conflict in Cabo Delgado (Wadekar and Ram 2022). Al-Sunnah has, since 2008, kidnapped and enslaved over 600 women and girls in the region (Human Rights Watch 2021). In the first four months of 2021, UNFPA noted that over 100 survivors of rape and sexual assault received counselling (Human Rights Watch 2021).
According to the Observatory for Rural Environment (Feijó 2021), teen girls were commonly targeted. Human Rights Watch (2021) reported that several younger women were forced to marry the Al-Sunnah’s fighters, while several more were sold abroad for between USD 600 to 1800. There have also been several reports of Mozambican government soldiers raping and sexually assaulting women and girls (Amnesty International 2020), although the government has denied such claims.
Basis of Sexual Violence
Human Rights Watch (2021) noted that Al-Sunnah had abducted women and girls during various attacks across several districts in Cabo Delgado throughout 2020 and 2021. The generic pattern involves abduction, detention, rape, sexual slavery, and forced marriage to the Al-Sunnah fighters (Amnesty International 2020). While boys are taken to be fighters, girls are forcibly abducted for forced marriage or sexual slavery. In some cases, the women are “returned” when they become pregnant (Wadekar and Ram 2022). It is clear then, that the use of sexual violence is a carefully planned tactic to intimidate and humiliate the communities – as these girls are turned out of their homes owing to the stigma.
Police officers and soldiers have accused civilians of protecting the Al-Sunnah, and sometimes women are accused of protecting their husbands. In such situations, women are beaten and raped and/or sexually assaulted (Amnesty International 2020). There have also been allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of women in exchange for humanitarian aid (Human Rights Watch 2021b), indicating what looks like opportunistic sexual violence by exploiting women who are already vulnerable and in dire need of assistance.
Sexual assault is used as a means of torture and intimidation by both sides.
"AU confirms ISIS infiltration in East Africa". The Independent (Uganda). 24 May 2018. https://www.independent.co.ug/au-confirms-isis-infiltration-in-east-africa/
Caleb Weiss (4 June 2019). "Islamic State claims first attack in Mozambique". Long War Journal. https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/06/islamic-state-claims-first-attack-in-mozambique.php
"Mozambique: Former Policemen Train Islamist Group". Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (Maputo). 1 May 2018. http://allafrica.com/stories/201805010190.html
Jasmine Opperman (31 May 2018). "Is northern Mozambique faced with an emerging extremist threat?". Daily Maverik. https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-05-31-is-northern-mozambique-faced-with-an-emerging-extremist-threat/#.WxgqqiAuCUl
"Mozambique police name "ringleaders" behind Islamist threat". Reuters. 13 August 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mozambique-violence/mozambique-police-name-ringleaders-behind-islamist-threat-idUSKBN1KY1T5
Tulet, Amélie (13 April 2021). "Crise au Mozambique: "l'insurrection au Cabo Delgado a des racines locales et anciennes"". RFI. https://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20210413-crise-au-mozambique-l-insurrection-au-cabo-delgado-a-des-racines-locales-et-anciennes
Neha Wadekar and Ed Ram (3 January 2022). “‘Kidnapped, Raped and Trafficked’: Women and Girls Exposed to Sexual Violence in War-torn Mozambique.” Pulitzer Center https://pulitzercenter.org/stories/kidnapped-raped-and-trafficked-women-and-girls-exposed-sexual-violence-war-torn-mozambique#:~:text=The%20United%20Nations%20Population%20Fund,predominantly%20rape%20and%20sexual%20asault.
Neha Wadekar (21 July 2021) "The fight for Cabo Delgado: A hidden war over Mozambique’s natural resources" The Telegraph https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/terror-and-security/mozambiques-hidden-war/
Human Rights Watch (2021) “Mozambique: Hundreds of Women, Girls Abducted” https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/12/07/mozambique-hundreds-women-girls-abducted
Human Rights Watch (2021b) "Aid-for-Sex Alleged in Northern Mozambique" https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/07/aid-sex-alleged-northern-mozambique
Amnesty International (2020). "What I saw was death." https://www.amnesty.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/AFR4135452021ENGLISH.pdf
João Feijó (2021) “The Role of Women in the Conflict in Cabo Delgado: Understanding Vicious Cycles of Violence” www.library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/fes-pscc/17970.pdf